Preachers say frequently, “Come, join my church.” In the Bible Belt, drivers occasionally see billboards and bumper stickers that read, “Attend the church of your choice Sunday.”
It might surprise you that in the thirty-three years I have preached, I have never asked anyone to join my church nor preached “join the church of your choice.” Here’s why.
I don’t want you to join my church.
At the risk of sounding sarcastic (the furthest thing from my intention), I don’t have a church anyone can join. The church I preach for belongs to Someone else. It began 1,985 years ago (founded: ad 33), not long after its Founder promised, “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Jesus owns His church (in the universal sense) and His churches (in the local sense) (Revelation 2–3). He paid the mortgage (Ephesians 5:25). He is its Foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11), Chief Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:5–6), and Head (Ephesians 1:22–23). The church is His bride (Ephesians 5:21–33); she wears His name (Romans 16:16). To call her “my church” would be claiming His bride as my own.
I don’t want you to join the church of your choice.
There are organizations one cannot join. A student cannot say, “I think I’ll join the National Honor Society.” One must qualify and be invited by its representatives. A baseball player cannot say, “I’m joining the all-star team.” One is selected for this honor.
Similarly, a sinner cannot join the church. Scripture speaks not of joining but of God adding members to it: “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). This addition is not done by the preacher, church, or individual. No New Testament congregation—not even the apostles—voted on candidates for church membership. Only the Lord decides on membership in His church (Colossians 1:18).
Someone might say, “‘Join the church of your choice’ just means to pick a church in your area.” It is true each Christian must find a congregation with which to worship and work, but the phrase “choose the church of your choice” usually expresses a consumer’s approach. One drives around the “marketplace” visiting various churches to find one that appeals to him. All the different flavors of churches are sampled like desserts in a cafeteria line. Some use criteria that are inconsequential—How long does it take to get there? Do they have a daycare? Do they have programs I like? One man said he changed to a new church because it was nearby; it had a beautiful building; it had comfortable pews, and it was air-conditioned. That was hardly a spiritual decision!
Others use more serious—but equally flawed—criteria: Does it have a worship style that appeals to me? Does it have a female minister? Is it soft on sin and light on doctrine? Is it accepting of homosexual marriage? Are the sermons short and sweet? Is the music good? Does it have a well-known minister?
Finding the church of “your choice” is misplaced focus. One’s first concern should be to find the church of God’s choice. It has never occurred to many people that a church can be “open for business” and not have a license from God. Some claim allegiance to Christ yet are unassociated with Him (Matthew 7:21–23).
No person was ever given the prerogative to set up his own church. Christians can only open “franchises” of Christ’s original church (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2)—complete with identical doctrines, worship, terms of entrance, and organization (Matthew 28:20). Whatever churches preach and practice must all be done with Jesus’ authority (Colossians 3:17), which He gives through His Word (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
Yet many have presumed to open their own “brands” of Christianity. They take some things from Scripture, some from tradition, and some from innovation. Mixed seed produces a different plant (Luke 8:11; Galatians 1:8; cf. Matthew 15:9). What will happen to such church plants? Jesus said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted” (Matthew 15:13).
Choosing a church is an important decision. It impacts the most important part of us, our souls (Matthew 16:26), for the longest time, eternity. Our criteria should be, “Does this church match the one in the New Testament? Does it teach the true gospel? Does it follow God’s Word?”
Do not assume that if a preacher stands up with Bible in hand, he speaks for God. He may, or he may not. The Bible warns, “Take heed that you not be deceived” (Luke 21:8) for “many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1; cf. Matthew 7:15). Take your Bible and read along. The ancient Bereans were commended for searching the Scriptures daily to see if the things preached “were so” (Acts 17:11). “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Someone observed, “God gave His Word so we can know about His church, and He gave His church so that we can know about His Word” (Ephesians 3:10).
I want you to choose Christ’s church.
Far from wanting to discourage a decision, I very much want to encourage you to follow Jesus and become part of His church.
It is vital to choose Christ’s church, for salvation and church membership are connected. Peter’s sermon on the church’s inauguration day (Acts 2) shows that salvation and church membership are simultaneous events.
Peter’s sermon convinced many that in executing Jesus they had killed God’s Son, whom God had raised (2:22–36).
They desired forgiveness and salvation, asking, “What shall we do?” (2:37).
Peter answered, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38).
Many gladly received his word, were baptized, and “about three thousand souls were added to them” (2:41). Subsequently, the Lord continued adding “to the church daily those who were being saved” (2:47).
Thus receiving remission of sins and being added to the church both occurred at the penitent believers’ baptisms. God added His new children’s names to the Book of Life at the time of their new birth (John 3:3, 5; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 20:12).
Logically follow this through. If God adds all those He saves to His Son’s church, then all Christians are church members, and there are no saved people outside the church. The church does not save us; the church is the saved. Church membership is not the means of salvation; it is the result of salvation.
Stated another way, one must be in Christ to be saved (Ephesians 1:3; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 2 Timothy 2:10). We are baptized “into Christ” (Galatians 3:27), which is identical to being in the church (Ephesians 1:22–23). Thus no one can be saved outside of Christ’s church. The church is not the Savior, but Christ is its Savior (Ephesians 5:23).
It is vital to choose Christ’s church because membership provides access to Christ’s blood. Salvation is only through His blood (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:22). The church is purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28). His blood was shed for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28). A sinner cleansed by that blood through immersion for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3–4) is placed in His blood-bought body where His blood continually keeps him clean (1 John 1:6–10).
Read these Scriptures in your own Bible. See if they are so. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
Please don’t join my church. Choose His!